Author Archives: Deb

About Deb

I'm an environmental scientist and mom of an 8 year old with a deep and abiding passion and commitment to the health and beauty of our planet.

Action 157. Just keep marching.

This weekend marks the third time in a handful of months that I have gotten together with thousands of my fellow fed-up activists. The Womens’ March, the March for Science, and this weekend, The People’s Climate March rounds out the protest trifecta.

It was wonderful to be able to bring my daughter to an event that drew thousands and, once again, lots of creative and beautiful signage with important messaging. Better still, we knew we were marching with hundreds of events across the country, including 200,000 in Washington DC who, in addition to the walk, endured temperatures which were-  rather appropriately-  in the 90s.

There were an estimated 3500 or so folks in Seattle marching and, while I am thankful for every single one of us marching, that is a tiny number compared to the 20,000 who marched for science, or the more than hundred thousand who were in the Women’s March in Seattle. I know that its very possible that many of us have march fatigue- I know I’ve had enough for a little while! – and its just as important that we are participating in other direct actions. But I have to express some disappointment that one of the most critical issues our society and our planet is facing got less response locally than I might have hoped.

However, I will also say that I was incredibly heartened by the number of families and people of all ages participating, as it speaks to the fact that climate change that unites us across the generations. And the most important point is for us to take this momentum and carry it into our daily activism, our phone calls to legislatures and our grassroots organizing and our entrepreneurial efforts on clean energy and all of those things that we must keep pushing forward.

 

Action 156. Tell the administration to stop doing stupid math and start doing good science.

Executive Order 13771 (82 FR 9339, February 3, 2017) on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs directs all agencies to repeal two existing regulations for each new regulation issued in FY 2017 and thereafter. It further directs agencies that the “total incremental costs of all regulations should be no greater than zero” in FY 2017.

You guys. Did you read that? Seriously, did you read that bad math? Based on WTF law of bad math is the administration devising this Executive Order (EO) to take two steps back for every one step forward? .

This piece of wisdom is part of a trifecta of EOs steeped in bad math and science dubbed “Regulatory Reform” on which the EPA is asking for public comment through May 15.  In addition to random reductions in regulatory ‘rithmetic, the relevant EOs also set up a “Task Force… to evaluate existing regulations and make recommendations to the agency head regarding their repeal, replacement, or modification” and “directs the EPA to review the Clean Power Plan, related rules and the NSPS for Oil and Gas, and all agencies to review existing regulations, orders, guidance documents and policies that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources.” It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see that the point of these orders is to push the EPA backwards on any kinds of regulations that might stand in the way of the dinosaur fossil fuel industry.

The EPA is asking for your feedback, dear reader, and I ask you, please take a few moments to do this; because besides you, me and the folks who are actually protected by the EPA’s regulation to protect our common resources and care to comment, you can guess who else is going to be providing comment: the industries that would love to be regulated a whole lot less.

Here are the comments I submitted to EPA this week:

Dear EPA:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the regulatory reforms that are proposed as part of Executive Orders 13771, 13777, and 13783.

As a Ph.D. environmental scientist who has worked for local, state, and federal regulatory agencies as well as in private industry sitting both on the same side of the table with and across the table from EPA and other federal regulatory agencies, I am well informed about the role of the EPA in safeguarding our nation’s air, water and natural resources. In addition, as a parent and an educator, I recognize the importance of these regulations for safeguarding my children and our future generations.

In light of my experience and priorities, I speak to the executive orders and to Director Pruitt’s evaluation of existing regulations with extraordinary concern for the integrity of the mission of this agency, and I have the following comments regarding these proposals:

Executive Order 13771 “directs all agencies to repeal two existing regulations for each new regulation issued in FY 2017 and thereafter. It further directs agencies that the “total incremental costs of all regulations should be no greater than zero” in FY 2017.” I find it fascinating and obscure why the EPA should be directed to play a zero-sum math game with its regulations. Is the administration interested in basic arithmetic, or should they perhaps be more interested in how the agency fulfills its mission? Is there any shred of scientific basis for assigning such arbitrary conditions? I also believe that we the public deserve to understand what is meant by “total incremental costs no greater than zero”. It would seem to me that the total incremental costs of thousands of additional deaths caused by plans to roll back the Clean Power Plan might be greater than zero. Or the loss of natural resources and access rights to public lands caused by re-opening our public holdings to drilling and mining, that might possibly cost We the People a bit more than zero. I do so hope that the administration is intending to consider that these are more-than-incremental costs that most certainly will need zeroing out for consistency with such a policy.

Executive Order 13778 seeks public input on existing regulations. Here is my input on existing regulations: the EPA should be encouraged and supported to continue to regulate the discharge of pollutants into our air, water, and environment to safeguard the health and well-being of the American public. This includes regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, as such emissions are known to contribute to climate change and contributes directly to increased risk to our health, safety and national security through multiple mechanisms including global destabilization, drought, wildfire, hurricanes, sea level rise, oceanic food chain collapse, and multiple other mechanisms which threaten the lives and livelihood of the American people. Attempts by Director Pruitt or this administration to undermine regulation of greenhouse gases and other discharges of pollutants that are done with the sole purpose of short-term economic benefit to specific corporate stakeholders and without regard to the enormous costs to broad segments of the American public and multiple other economic stakeholders including fisheries, tourism, coastal real estate, agriculture and others, is a dereliction of duties with which the EPA is charged.

Executive Order 13783 directs a review of “regulations, orders, guidance documents and policies that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources.” This review must consider that the proposed attempt to roll back the Clean Power Plan and associated regulations has significant potential to unduly burden the clean energy industry of the United States, an industry which is promises entirely domestically produced power that is quickly approaching grid parity if not lower costs than fossil fuel sources of energy, and does so with many fewer negative economic and environmental impacts on the American people than does fossil fuel-based energy. In addition, the review should evaluate how fossil fuel industry subsidies lead to an absolutely unfair and inherently anti-capitalist, non-free-market advantage to these dinosaur industries and create a burden on clean energy technologies which have every right to compete on a level playing field with traditional energy sources.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the scientists and staff of the EPA for their incredibly hard work that they do every day to protect our air, land, water and health. I hope and expect our agencies will continue to be able to fulfill their mission in an environment that is fair, open, and supportive of objective, science-based decision making.

Sincerely,

Deborah Rudnick, Ph.D.

Action 155. Nature Conservancy no nos.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a very effective, amazing organization in many ways, engaged in direct conservation action and making great strides in protecting beautiful and biodiverse areas around the world. They do some incredibly important work. Thus, I struggled with the decision for quite some time about cancelling my membership. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that I cannot in good conscience continue donating to them given what I have learned.

My first eye-opener was reading in Naomi Klein’s book, This Changes Everything. In it, she talked about an incident several years ago- verified in the New York Times–  when TNC purchased conservation land in Texas to protect an endangered species  pledging not to allow oil and gas drilling, but then continued to allow those activities on the conserved land. When I started looking more closely at the kind of relationships the Nature Conservancy has with private industry, I had some more eye-openers as well.

I absolutely understand that one of the goals of the Nature Conservancy is to work with industries so that they can guide and push them towards better management practices. Clearly, working with industry to green their practices can have huge positive effects for the environment. Its also understandably tricky to navigate a relationship with a for-profit company that does not necessarily put the environment first, and I don’t think its fair to insist that everyone on TNC’s business council is a paragon of sustainability practices. Cargill, for instance, is one of their partners, and they have a very checkered record with respect to their overseas holdings in soy and palm oil, crops with a devestating history of deforestation and environmental destruction- but they have also made some promising commitments, and even some actions, to improve those processes.

Cargill is probably pretty representative of many of the company’s on TNC’s list: they may well do they right thing when they feel they can economically afford to and when they are in the spotlight. I’m quite sure I do not know everything about all these companies, and I cannot speak to all their pros and cons.  But there are a few companies on this list that I know some things about, and I have an incredibly hard time swallowing as a result that they are part of TNC’s business leadership. This includes Dow Chemical, which has a well known, extensive history of agrochemical production and in line with this priority, a substantial and ever-growing investment in lobbying the federal government to roll back regulations that protect public health and the environment from pesticide impacts, culminating most recently in an overturn on the ban on Chloropyrifos, an organophosphate pesticide with known links to human toxicity and neurological damage, by our new, industry-friendly administration.

Sitting on their council is also Monsanto. Monsanto, the company that GMO-reactionists love to hate.  I think some of the bad rap this company has gotten is overblown or at least oversimplified. But some of their behaviors point to a very deep-seated set of ethics I absolutely do not share. Such as systemically treating genetic materials as patentable and suing hundreds of small farmers for propagating genetically engineered seeds. Monsanto has said it is “committed” to not suing farmers for trace amounts of their GM crops inadvertently appearing in farmers’ fields- but outcomes of recent legal court cases leaves no recourse for farmers who want to keep Monsanto’s GM crops out of their fields in the first place. In a broad sense, while Monsanto touts its commitments to sustainability, its basic activities- including creating crops that can tolerate increased chemical applications; promoting large-scale monocultural crop production; and using their significant lobbying muscle and internal policies to block independent research on their products and processes- are antithetical to the goals I think of when I consider agricultural sustainbility, including reduction of chemical use, diversification of agricultural landscapes, and transparency of process.

I know my little bit of money I donate to the Nature Conservancy isn’t going to be greatly missed. But at this point, I can’t in good conscience continue to give to an organization who has gone past what I think of as some real lines in the sand with their corporate alliances and some very serious mistakes in prioritizing profit over their own mission. Sorry, TNC, but you are on my no list, at least for now.

Action 154. Put a price on it!

There’s widespread agreement among folks who want to try to solve our emissions and climate crisis that carbon pricing is a key component of controlling greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a pretty simple concept, based on the recognition that if industry can use our atmosphere as an open sewer, and not have to pay for it, what’s the incentive to stop doing so? Carbon pricing is a way to monetize the real costs of emissions, by recognizing that emitting greenhouse gases have real and profoundly negative consequences for public health and the environment, and that a) somebody needs to pay for these currently externalized, unaccounted-for costs and b) by insisting on that, an economic incentive is put in place to change that behavior and reduce emissions.

But of course, its not that simple (is it ever?). There are still only a handful of pricing strategies that have been implemented long enough for us to look at their effectiveness and learn from- British Columbia’s carbon tax and California’s Cap and Trade program being two primary examples. There are some real failures, such as the deeply flawed attempt by the EU to institute carbon caps that mis-priced carbon and gave far too much away to industry from the get-go. There’s lots of legitimate disagreement over the mechanisms and pricing strategies by which carbon pricing should occur. There’s LOTS of disagreement over where moneys raised by carbon pricing should go- does it go back to the public? Is it reinvested in clean energy infrastructure, or green jobs? Does it go back into government coffers? And of course, there is lots of disagreement and pushbacks from both conservative politicians who don’t see climate change as a priority and for whom the word tax is a red line; and from energy-intensive industries who understandably balk at the prospect of prices going up.

All this disagreement was readily on display at the WA state environment committee hearing in Olympia  I attended a few weeks ago. HB 1646 is a bill that rose from the ashes of last year’s failed carbon tax public initiative, this time with a stronger emphasis on reinvesting proceeds from the tax into green jobs, energy infrastructure, and social justice for communities most heavily impacted by emissions. Personally, I was a huge supporter of Initiative 731 as I found its pricing and revenue-neutral framework far more transparent and straightfoward, and less prone to pork-barrelling, than the approach this bill is taking. But at this point, I think our priority has to be to get carbon pricing started, and since it is not likely to come from the federal level, the states have to lead. So I am willing to support any decent proposal for carbon pricing, and this one is still pretty good.

I took myself down to Olympia to watch 3 hours of the hearing and submit my written testimony on the bill, which you can read here if you are so inclined: HB 1646 testimony_DRudnick . There was excellent testimony from several citizen’s groups as well as stakeholders including medical organizations and outdoor sports businesses, who clearly recognize the risks to their communities from climate change. Unfortunately, there were also several industry lobbyists there to cry foul on any sort of pricing scheme. A few things were particularly saddening to me about their testimony. Many of them prefaced their comments with an acknowledgement of how important climate change is as an issue, and how we need to do something about it– but then went on to explain how it couldn’t be them, because they couldn’t possibly afford it. This was a frustrating argument to hear in particular from members of the agricultural community arguing against this bill. It is phenomenal to think that an industry that is facing absolutely enormous risks from climate change– shifting entire plant growth zones and massive hydrologic disruptions, to name a few– is unable to see past short-term profits for what this means for their industry as a whole. It is unfathomable to me how we can continue to be so short-sighted and unaware of the significance and reach of the risks we take by not taking steps to significantly and permanently reduce our emissions.

The reality is, this bill is unlikely to go anywhere in this session, and that is painful to see. But the other reality is that even just a few years ago, a bill like this probably would not have even gotten a hearing in Olympia. So, the times they are a’changing with respect to acknowledging the importance of this issue. The question remains, however, are they changing fast enough?

Action 153. Climate. Reality.

I spent the last few days hanging out with Al Gore and a thousand fellow climate activists from most every state and 32 countries at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training in Denver, in an immersion into climate leadership that was powerful, at times surreal, and intensely motivating.

Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership program offers free (but you have to pay your own way to it; shout out to my wonderful in-laws who hosted my stay!)  training workshops around the country and the planet. Their goal is to educate attendees on the scope and magnitude of climate impacts and solutions. In turn, we attendees return to our communities to share what we have learned and get active on climate issues.

Over the three days, we learned an incredible amount about the scope and impacts of the climate crisis. Gore spent an impressive amount of time with us given how full his plate is, sharing full and abbreviated versions of his presentation, moderating panel sessions on climate communication, advocacy programs, and clean energy pathways. We saw staggering evidence of the scope of the impacts that our planet is already beginning to evidence in the form of increased drought and wildfires, extreme precipitation events, effects on public health and disease, ocean acidification, glacial decline, and sea level rise– impacts that, without swift and persistent commitment to global greenhouse gas emission reductions, will worsen in scope and impact the lives of humans and all our fellow species. It was a review that was both profoundly disturbing and intensely motivating, for it is clear that the scale, in the words of Climate Reality President Ken Berlin, is beyond what we are used to imagining and what we have ever faced.

But, as Berlin also pointed out, if the scale is enormous, so is the opportunity. There is amazingly good news on the horizon, and some of it is here already, of the rapidly declining costs of clean energy alternatives. We are entering a phase of grid parity with traditional fossil fuels, the threshold below which the unsubsidized cost of solar is lower than the unsubsidized cost of fossil fuels. No less an investment forecaster than Goldman Sachs predicts these costs will continue to drop. Around the world and in the US, we are starting to see wind and solar ramp up and energy storage being explored and expanded, in response to these cost declines. In the meantime, while our current Administration postures about reviving the coal industry, the reality of that industry is that it is precipitous decline. There were zero new coal plants permitted this year; operating plants are rapidly shuttering; there are  twice as many people employed in the solar industry than coal; and internationally, several countries, with China in the lead, are on track to reduce or eliminate coal-generated power. At the local level, there is incredible momentum towards a clean energy pathway, and we saw some exciting examples including Colorado’s voter-approved renewables portfolio, passed in 2004 and upgraded since to require 30 percent of electricity sold by large utilities to come from renewable energy sources by 2020; and places like Moab and Park City Utah committing to 100% renewable energy within 15 years.

But while market forces are increasingly in our favor, the reality is, there is plenty of work for the grassroots to do to ensure this transition occurs, and as quickly as possible. Fossil fuels have an enormous, deep-pocketed hold on our governments that has been built up for over a century. Globally, we subsidize fossil fuels at the rate of about $10 million a MINUTE – a figure greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments. With this level of investment in the status quo, and with many of our politicians’ campaign chests filled with fossil fuel money to ensure the continuation of such subsidies, it is not difficult to understand why there is such inertia and opposition to policies that support clean energy development and regulate climate change. And time is most certainly of the essence, as we look at the stark reality that the vast majority of our proven carbon reserves are unburnable if we hope to stay below 2 °C of warming, above which many scientists agree we will face extraordinarily harmful consequences to our global ecosystems. Accordingly, much of our training was focused on effective communication strategies- how to powerfully, effectively disseminate fact-based information back to our communities and to decision-makers in order to fight back against the deep pockets arrayed against this progress.

I left the Climate Reality training with a renewed sense of purpose and determination to this issue, with lots of new resources available to us as Climate Leaders through the Climate Reality program, and, very importantly, with the sense of the 1,000 fellow trainees and the 10,000 more that have been trained by this program, all having my back as we work together across the country and the world to move us away from a path of destruction and climate chaos, towards a liveable, breatheable future. Here are the final words I wrote in my notebook from Mr. Gore’s closing statements:

Things take longer than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you’d think they could. Remember that obfuscation and doubt are choices, but the choice is clear. No lie can live forever, and the moral arc of the Universe, as Dr. King said, bends towards justice.

Forward.

Action 152. Put a LID on it.

Last weekend I spent all day at a storm water curriculum teacher training workshop. What, that’s not the most exciting thing you’ve ever heard?? OK fine, but bear with me, because this is  important and climate-related.

Storm water is a big problem here in Puget Sound. Rain that hits our streets and buildings picks up a chemical cocktail of oils, grease, dirt, metals, plastics, and various debris. All this pollution heads to our gutters and into storm drains. And just about none of it is treated before it heads straight into Puget Sound. Its estimated that about 3/4 of all the pollution in Puget Sound can be traced back to stormwater,  and it’s estimated that somewhere between 20 and 90 million pounds of toxic chemicals enter Puget Sound EVERY YEAR through stormwater.

If that doesn’t sound gross enough, visualize it with Laura James’ amazing time lapse footage of a stormwater plume from a stormwater outfall in Puget Sound. YUCK.

As if these numbers weren’t bad enough, climate change has the potential to make them worse. That’s because predictive modeling for our region suggests that rain events are going to get more severe under climate change– which puts more power behind moving pollutants from city surfaces quickly into the Sound. Combine that with our increasing rates of population growth, infrastructure, and road and facility building and, well, you can see where we are headed, and it’s not good news for the health of our waters.

To add another layer of complexity to this already difficult issue, storm water is particularly tricky because it is a non-point-source of pollution. Unlike the pollution that comes out of a factory pipe, non-point-source pollution is just that- not from any particular point,  diffuse and everywhere. Therefore, addressing it takes a lot of creativity and a lot of effort spread across a large region to meet stormwater issues where they originate and put a LID on it.

I don’t mean a literal lid. By LID, I mean Low Impact Development: a term that broadly refers to a whole suite of engineered solutions that all have at their core a common goal: to slow storm water down and allow it to re-infiltrate, reducing the volume of stormwater and the amount of pollutants that run off into the sound. LID can take many different forms: it can be as simple as a curb cut that lets stormwater run into a grassy swale so the plants can trap some of the sediment and chemicals and take up the water; or as complex as a highly engineered and carefully crafted rain garden with amended soils and plants specifically designed to handle large amounts of stormwater. LID can be placed on streets, parking lots, roofs or walls and can be scaled up or scaled down as needed. Plus, as you can see in the links in this paragraph, green or LID infrastructure can be attractive and enhance the aesthetics and even increase property values of buildings or neighborhoods if done and maintained correctly.

Fortunately, our local governments and institutions are recognizing how vital LID is to the future of managing storm water and the health of our Sound. The City of Seattle is a leader in LID infrastructure. And our federal and state construction permit systems are starting to increasingly require LID as part of stormwater management, which is driving a lot of these governmental efforts and in turn improving how stormwater is handled in new development. However, because storm water is everywhere, and because older development retrofits may be slower and more expensive, it is important to diffuse the information and technical expertise far and wide so that the public has a better understanding of the impacts of storm water and how we  all play a role in solving this problem.

That’s where the teacher training comes in. The Pacific Education Institute offers free teacher training workshops on many subjects, including an amazing curriculum all about storm water (the elementary and secondary curricula are free and available for download here) that teaches students about this issue and engages them in hands-on activities that help them research and problem-solve storm water issues at their school and in their neighborhoods. My colleague and I went to check it out to see if it’s something we can integrate into our district’s elementary curriculum. And we also were able to check out the incredible work being done on stormwater engineering and low impact development at Washington State University’s Stormwater Center in Puyallup, where the workshop was held. This campus is working on a whole range of LID research, including comparing and contrasting stormwater runoff from different kinds of pervious paving; comparing water quality runoff from roofing materials; and investigating how different soil mixes and vegetation influence water quality and treatment in raingardens. They also have researchers studying the toxic effects of stormwater on salmonids, with some really dramatic and concerning results coming to light about the lethality of stormwater on juvenile salmon.

I’m really looking forward to bringing back the ideas and curriculum we learned about to our students. There are many exciting things about this subject: opportunities to learn about principles of biology and engineering, as well as a real opportunities to empower students to make a difference through investigating stormwater issues at their school and at home. Just like climate change, this is an issue that is going to take all of us working from many different angles. Together, we can put a LID on it.

Action 151. Join ’em to beat ’em.

The best thing I can think of to get out of my well of post-election depression is to foster connections:  basic connections with the people I love to remind me how many good people are out there, and also climate connections to connect with the fact that many, many incredible people are really out there trying to bend the arc on climate change. My first activities, after recovering from shock, have been lots of  angry and frustrated conversations with friends that have helped my heart a lot. Now, on to Phase 2: joining the climate army.

Joining the climate army can look like a lot of different things. There are many, many good groups out there working on this issue from many different angles (check out my Partners in Productivity for links to several of them). There are kids groups, social justice groups, groups that deal with climate in specific contexts like rain forest protection or pipeline opposition. Plus there are a number of new groups that are sprouting up recently to try to make connections- for example the new Washington Environmental Women’s Alliance -as folks are trying to find the intersections of issues that are important to them and coalesce around important objectives like women’s rights and climate justice. It can feel a bit overwhelming- but in a good way. There are many voices and groups that are prioritizing this issue, and their numbers are growing.

I’m still trying to figure out where my efforts should like in this landscape, but I’m doing my best to join ’em to beat ’em: trying to find effective groups that work at a grassroots level where I feel like I can really help beyond simply writing a check. Amazingly, though I write and think and act a lot on climate change, with a few exceptions I really haven’t put my effort into working closely with groups whose efforts are more concentrated on this issue. I think its time to try to take that step. So far I’ve got:

  • joining our local district’s democratic party group, so that I can add a climate change voice to the local level of party politics
  • joining Citizen’s Climate Lobby, a grassroots group that works within the political system to support climate solutions.
  • joining the Washington Environmental Women’s Alliance to work on climate-change related issues within their organization

Are you reaching out and making new connections, or talking to new people, on climate change? I welcome thoughts and suggestions. Because we’ve got to be all together on this issue. It is going to take all of us standing up and demanding our liveable future.